Tag: Mike McNessor

There’s No Better Time to Buy a Chevy SSR than Right Now! – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

There’s No Better Time to Buy a Chevy SSR than Right Now! – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


It shoulda been a contender. A modern, hot-rodded take on the 1949-’55 Advance Design series Chevrolet pickup, issued by none other than the Bowtie brand itself. But something funny happened on the way to instant-collectible status and the SSR sort of got shuffled into a parking space next to the Plymouth Prowler.

If you’re one of those keeping track, SSRs seem to be more affordable now than ever. According to data from Hemmings.com, the average asking price for a 2006—the final and one of the most desirable years due to the availability of the 6-liter engine and T-56 six-speed manual— was $39,551, based on asking prices from the last three years. The lowest asking price for an ’06 over that period was $23,500 and the highest price was $60,000. Prices trend lower for the earlier trucks which were offered only with the 5.3-liter V-8 and an automatic transmission. Out of 88 2004 SSRs for sale in the Hemmings classifieds over the last three years, the average asking price was $29,000. The lowest price asked was $18,500 and the highest was $45,000.

Those top-end numbers seem steep until you consider that the adjusted-for-inflation cost of a new SSR, that stickered for about $47,000, would be more than $73,000 today. Which means these trucks have hardly been investment grade.

Figures from Hagerty

But who cares? If you’re looking for a fun, open-air driver with built in LS power that makes a very retro-styling statement, the SSR is a cool choice. Over four model years there were 24,180 built and since they were pleasure vehicles by design, there are many out there with low mileage and histories of pampered ownership.

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In addition to powering U.S. aircraft in WWI, the Liberty V-12 helped create the Lincoln Motor Co – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


Advanced engine design used overhead cams, an aluminum crankcase, liquid cooling

Aerial combat advanced at an astonishing rate during World War I, and though it seems unimaginable today, there were no American-designed aircraft deemed suitable for battle in the skies over Europe. There was a U.S.-designed engine in the fight however: the Liberty V-12 or L-12.

The L-12 engine was America’s greatest technological contribution to the aerial war effort. Its initial assignment was powering the “Liberty Plane”—a version of the British-designed De Haviland/Airco DH-4 bomber produced in the U.S. by Dayton-Wright in Dayton, Ohio; Fisher Body Corporation in Detroit, Michigan; and Standard Aircraft in New Jersey. In addition to powering the DH-4 and a variety of other airplanes, over its long service life the L-12 powered tanks, high-speed watercraft, and land-speed racers.

The L-12 came about because Packard’s head of engineering, Jesse G. Vincent, recognized the need for a standardized line of aircraft engines that could be mass produced during wartime. The government assigned Vincent the task of creating this engine and teamed him up with Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. The two met in Washington, D.C., on May 29 and, with the help of volunteer draftsmen, created detailed drawings and a full report by May 31. This original design was a V-8, but in their report Vincent and Hall outlined how the engine could be configured as a four-, six-, eight-, or 12-cylinder engine.

By July 3, a V-8 prototype assembled by Packard was running, and a V-12 soon followed. Due to its superior horsepower potential, the 1,650-cu.in. V-12 was given the nod for mass production

An I.D. tag shows the L-12’s firing order and reveals that this example at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum was built by Lincoln on September 25, 1918.

Not only did the Liberty engine mark a great achievement for American aviation, it was responsible for creating a landmark car company: Lincoln. Henry Leland, who founded Cadillac, and his son Wilfred started Lincoln with a $10 million government contract awarded to build Liberty engines. The Lelands left Cadillac to form Lincoln because General Motors President William C. “Billy” Durant was a pacifist and initially rejected the government’s call for GM to build L-12s. (Durant later recanted and Liberty engines were manufactured by GM.) Production numbers seem to vary for output before and after the war but in total Ford, Lincoln, Packard, Marmon, and Buick produced 20,748 L-12 engines.

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What you need to know when looking for a 1986-1987 Buick Grand National – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


Angelo’s, in Anaheim, California, is one of the few classic drive-in hamburger joints still standing. Out front there’s a big sign, with flashy neon lettering, that can cast an instant spell over even the most jaded hot rodder. The servers zoom around the place on roller skates (of course) and you can order a beer with your burger. In other words, it’s got all the trappings of a hot cruise-in spo

Angelo’s was such a scene in the 1970s and ’80s that it made the cover of the April ’82 issue of Hot Rod magazine. It then appeared on the July ’85 issue of Car and Driver as the backdrop for a photo featuring GM’s hot “G-bodies”: the ’85 Oldsmobile 442, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, and the Buick Grand National, all basking in the nostalgic neon glow of Angelo’s big sign. The magazine’s cover line read “Modern Muscle” and the comparison story’s message was clear: These cars were fun throwbacks to the 1960s muscle car era.

Nearly 40 years later, GM’s G-body performers can be seen as something other than fun cars with retro flair—we can see them as bridges to the performance vehicles of today. One of them in particular: the all-black turbo-boosted one

The 1986 Grand National grille has a chrome strip across the top, embossed with the word “Buick,” and thin, vertical chrome strips in the center and on the sides. The brightwork on the grille was eliminated for ’87.

While Buick’s Grand National rode on the same 1960s-design underpinnings as the 442 and Monte Carlo SS (perimeter frame, coil springs, A-arms and ball joints, and solid rear axle), under the hood it packed some advanced technology. Turbocharging was nothing new when Buick applied it to its V-6 engines in the 1970s, but it came of age under the hood of turbocharged Regals when combined with computer engine management that governed sequential fuel injection and distributorless ignition. Intercoolers were nothing new in the 1980s either, but they boosted the Grand National’s power for 1986-’87. In stock form, these cars were fast for their time, but in the late ’80s and 1990s, tuners seized on the Grand National (and its turbocharged stablemates), unleashing more horsepower and creating a performance cult rivaled only by the one surrounding the 5.0 Fox Mustang.

While Buick’s Grand National rode on the same 1960s-design underpinnings as the 442 and Monte Carlo SS (perimeter frame, coil springs, A-arms and ball joints, and solid rear axle), under the hood it packed some advanced technology. Turbocharging was nothing new when Buick applied it to its V-6 engines in the 1970s, but it came of age under the hood of turbocharged Regals when combined with computer engine management that governed sequential fuel injection and distributorless ignition. Intercoolers were nothing new in the 1980s either, but they boosted the Grand National’s power for 1986-’87. In stock form, these cars were fast for their time, but in the late ’80s and 1990s, tuners seized on the Grand National (and its turbocharged stablemates), unleashing more horsepower and creating a performance cult rivaled only by the one surrounding the 5.0 Fox Mustang.

Today, Grand Nationals are on every list of collectible American cars of the 1980s— the most desirable being the 1986s and last-of-the-line ’87s. The very last Grand National ever built sold at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in January for an incredible $550,000, but 1986-’87 Grand National values across the board have been on the upswing for the last decade. In 2012 you might’ve picked up a nice ’86 Grand National for around $20,000 and a nice ’87 for less than $30,000. Now you can expect to pay upwards of $50,000 for an ’86 in similar condition and more than $60,000 for an ’87. The ’87s have traditionally commanded higher sums but they’re more plentiful: 20,193 ’87s versus 5,512 ’86s.

Interested in grabbing the keys to one of these 1980s performance icons and cruising it to Angelo’s or some classic drive-in hamburger joint near you? Even better, maybe you want to hit the occasional street night at the nearest drag strip? Here are some things to keep in mind about these turbo fliers from Flint.

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It took a no-holds-barred restoration to turn a patched-up 1929 Model A Standard Coupe into a prize winner – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


Photography by Matt Litwin; Restoration Photography by Bruce LeFebvre

The Ford Model A’s good looks and low price of admission attracted millions of buyers before and after World War II. In later postwar years, those same qualities made the A one of the world’s most popular collector cars.

As a restoration project, you can’t beat a Model A: They’re simple, they’re supported by a vast network of specialists, and parts are widely available. That’s why hobbyists fixed ’em up decades ago and why many of those same Model A’s are being restored a second or third time by hobbyists today.

Here’s our feature car, circa-2012, as found on eBay by owner Bruce LeFebvre. The exterior looked solid, but the green paint was concealing a lot of makeshift body repair work.

Bruce LeFebvre, the owner/restorer of this month’s stunning Bonnie Gray and Chelsea Blue 1929 Model A Standard Coupe, is a history buff and had always admired the Model A’s styling. “They look cool,” he says. “And Henry Ford was a fascinating character who really put America on wheels.”

Bruce wasn’t what you would call a Model A expert when he started shopping for one of his own about a decade ago, but over the course of this project, he gained a lot of knowledge.

“I didn’t know my ass from my elbow about Model A’s, but I knew I wanted one,” he says. “I saw one online located in a town called Peculiar, Missouri—so I bought it for $6,500, then my friend Roger Parrott and I spent almost 10 days going out and back to get it.”

The coupe’s four-cylinder was treated to a rebuild and pressed back into service. A breakerless ignition stands in for the points and condenser, inside the stock distributor. Period accessory touches include a mount for the oil can and an Auto Lite heater.

Bruce’s reasonably priced, online auction fi nd was a nice-looking car, though maybe a little worn and in need of attention. It had already been converted to hydraulic brakes —a selling point and something which would’ve been on Bruce’s to-do list anyway. Outside, the car wore aged green paint and inside there was what looked like water stains on the upholstery. Some fresh interior pieces, some paint, and some general sprucing should have brought it back to like-new condition — or so Bruce thought. But once back at his shop in Connecticut, a teardown revealed a lot of hidden rust, wood rot, and some hasty body repairs, too.

“When I first saw the car, it didn’t look bad at all,” Bruce says. “But once we started taking it apart—we took the headliner out, the seats out, and the side panels —you could see it was packed with body filler and there was haphazard fiberglass work that looked like bandages holding it together

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The 5.2-liter Voodoo V-8 Made Magic in the Modern Ford Mustang GT350 and GT350R –


A free-flowing intake and heads, aggressive cams and high compression did a lot of heavy lifting while the exotic flat-plane crank grabbed headlines and helped make lyrical exhaust sounds

The engine produced 526 naturally aspirated horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm, while making beautiful music up to an 8,000-plus rpm redline. At the heart of its howling exhaust note was a flat-plane crankshaft — so called because its connecting rod journals (and weights) were positioned 180-degrees opposite of each other, instead of at 90-degree intervals like the cross-plane design used in most American V-8s. Flat-plane cranks are not new or unusual. Four-cylinder engines have them and Cadillac’s 314 V-8, which debuted in 1915, used one.
The flat-plane crankshaft from Ford’s 5.2-liter Voodoo V-8.

In theory, the flat-plane design delivers a V-8 with less reciprocating mass, and superior breathing, which should make an engine lighter, more compact and capable of building rpms very quickly. But it also delivers a lot of what’s known as “secondary vibration” and that paint-shaker quality increases in proportion to the size of the pistons and the speed that those pistons are moving. In a race car, it’s a reasonable tradeoff – especially if there’s a performance advantage to be gained. In a 21st-century street car, stickering north of $60,000, customers are likely to complain about shaking steering wheels, buzzing shifters, blurry rearview mirrors, etc. So, Ford incorporated bits on the GT350 that you wouldn’t find on a race car, like exhaust dampers and a dual-mass flywheel, to help smooth things out.

While the Voodoo’s flat-plane crankshaft grabbed all the headlines, this engine would’ve made tremendous horsepower if it had been built with a cross-plane crank. It inhaled through an 87-millimeter throttle body, the largest ever used on a Ford engine. The cams were aggressive, producing .55 inches of lift with 270 degrees duration and using low-friction roller followers to bump the valves. Compression is key to making power and, with a lofty 12:1 compression ratio, the Voodoo had plenty.

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Chevrolet’s Mark IV LS6 454 Made the 1970 Chevelle (and El Camino) SS, Super – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


More than 50 years on, the 454 is still the big Kahuna—the largest displacement engine ever bolted into a regular production Chevrolet passenger car. It’s lived a long, useful life since its 1970 model-year introduction, powering trucks, boats, generators, race cars of every sort, and more.

Chevrolet will sell you a new 454 today, ready to run, like the 454 HO with 438 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque or the ZZ454 with aluminum heads, rated at 469 hp and 519 lb-ft of torque. These are technically “Gen VI” engines – the original 454 was designated Mark IV. The new engines have four-bolt mains and forged cranks and rods like the best of the originals, but are updated with roller camshafts and one-piece rear main seals. They’re from the same family as the ZZ427 that Hemmings Editor in Chief Terry McGean installed in Hemmings’ 1969 Chevelle SS396 convertible.

With a domed hood, the LS6 could’ve been topped with either a dual-snorkel or open-element air cleaner.

The 1970 LS6 454, factory rated at 450 hp, was exclusive to the Chevelle and the El Camino. It not only gave Chevrolet intermediates more power than the Corvette that year, it was the most powerful engine those cars would ever have. Part of the LS6’s charm was that it wasn’t exotic, but made effortless horsepower and torque. The basic recipe included a four-bolt main block; 11.25:1 compression; rectangle-port heads with 2.19-inch intake and 1.88 exhaust valves; an aggressive mechanical cam, shared with other high-performance big-blocks; and a low-rise aluminum intake topped with a 780-cfm Holley. In ’71 the 365-hp LS5 was the top engine offering in the Chevelle, while Corvette gained an LS6 engine option rated at 425 hp and topped with aluminum heads — thus putting Chevrolet’s sports car back on top of the performance lineup. Interestingly, factory literature shows a 425-hp LS6 454 (with iron heads) as an option for the ’71 Chevelle, but none were sold.

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1979 Pontiac Trans Am 10th Anniversary Limited Edition Buyer’s Guide – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


The late Roger Ebert wasn’t pulling punches when he called Smokey and the Bandit II, “a mess.” “There is no need for this movie,” the Pulitzer-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic wrote in his 1980 review. “That’s true of most sequels, but it’s especially true of Smokey and the Bandit II, which is basically just the original movie, done again, not as well.

“Something similar could be said about one of the stars of that film: the turbo-charged 1980 Trans Am. It was basically the original 1977 Special Edition Trans Am, done again, but from a raw performance standpoint, not as well. Pontiac’s back was against the wall in ’80 as it faced new government fuel mileage standards that the T/A’s thumping 400-cu.in V-8 couldn’t comply with (any more than the Bandit could comply with Sheriff Justice).

So, the Excitement Division’s solution was to add a turbocharger to a carbureted 301-cu.in V-8 that was topped with some of the most restrictive cylinder heads ever bolted to a Trans Am engine. With a manual transmission and a low axle ratio, the little engine might have had a fighting chance, but the turbo’d 301 was paired only with an automatic and a 3.08:1 gear set. This was not a recipe for world-beating (or an Oscar-winning) performance. In California, the news was worse for Pontiac purists: Trans Ams in the Golden State were powered by a Chevrolet engine—the 305. Adding insult to injury, none of the V-8s could be paired with a manual transmission in ’80.

But just before the party ended, Pontiac served up one last round of the top-shelf stuff and called it “The 10th Anniversary Limited Edition” Trans Am. Along with its special paint treatment, graphics, wheels, and more, this ’79 Trans Am would be among the last offered with the “T/A 6.6” 400 engine. As a collectible car from the 1970s, the anniversary Trans Am stands out in terms of desirability and value. The 400 version, sold exclusively with a Borg-Warner Super T-10 four-speed manual, is the scarcest, and typically commands the most money.

Of the 7,500 anniversary cars built, a scant 1,817 had the 400/T-10 combo, while the remaining 5,683 were built with the “6.6 Litre” Oldsmobile 403 and a Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic. Popular price guides tack on a premium for the 400 and four-speed powertrain pairing and currently value a 400, four-speed anniversary edition T/A at $30,000 on the low side, $96,000 on the high end, with an average of $57,000. All of the anniversary Trans Ams were loaded with virtually every option and stickered north of $10,000 when new. That was big money in 1979, but adjusted for inflation, amounts to about $38,000 today—right around the price of a new Chevrolet Camaro 1SS.

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A Discreetly Modified 1950 International L-110 Pickup That Has Staying Power – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


More than three decades have passed since International Harvester was broken apart and sold, but the once-great American manufacturer refuses to fade away. The company’s black and red, “man on a tractor” IH logo and signature bright red Farmall paint live on today aboard Case IH agricultural equipment. International heavy trucks live on as well under parent company Navistar, and the company’s Integrated Coach school buses can trace their lineage back to International.

International light trucks have not fared quite as well, however. The pickups were phased out in 1975 as IH struggled to maintain its core businesses. The rugged Scout utility reached the end of the trail in 1980 as IH was in its death throes. Fortunately, scores of those vehicles are kept alive today by legions of International enthusiasts who recognize a classic design when they see one.

One of those people is Jim Martin, owner, rescuer, and proud caretaker of this feature truck, a 1950 International L-110. The truck was sitting idle in Redlands, California, back in 2006 when Jim’s stepson spotted it.

“He called me and asked if I would be interested in rebuilding a truck,” Jim says. “I had just finished my 1956 Chevrolet, but he kept telling me that I really needed to come and see this special truck

.”With his son along for the ride, Jim went to check out the old pickup that had so captivated his stepson. What he found was a complete vehicle that needed attention.

“The owner said it ran about five years earlier, but his dad had cut all the wires in it, and he hadn’t tried to start it since,” Jim says.

With a fresh six-volt battery and a few squirts of starting fluid, the International’s inline-six came to life and a deal was struck.

“I asked him the price and he replied, ‘I’ll sell it to you for $2,500, but you can’t part it out.’

“Jim agreed to the terms and promised he’d put the International back to good-as-new condition.”At this point, I had a new project!” Jim says.

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1973-’87 Chevrolet Pickup Buyer’s Guide – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

Rounding out some finer points of the popular “square body” haulers

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years around 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks (and their GMC counterparts), aka “square bodies.” Whatever you choose to call them, these boxy trucks are popular because they’re widely available at affordable prices, there’s an abundant parts supply, they’re simple to work on, and they’re a blank slate for modifications

.The current trendiness of 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks is inspiring this issue’s buyer’s guide, but it’s probably overdue. While values have been on the upswing—we’ve seen some examples fetch breathtaking amounts at auction—with more than 10 million built, these trucks are still plentiful.

When Chevrolet’s C/K light trucks broke cover for the ’73 model year, they sported a new, more modern-looking profile, with a hood that was flush with the tops of the fenders and doors that were set into the trucks’ roofline. (To clarify: “C” for two-wheel drive, “K” for four-wheel drive, and in ’87 the nomenclature changed for one year on full-size pickups to “R” for two-wheel drive and “V” for four-wheel drive.) A four-door crew-cab model was also introduced as a $1,000 option on 1- and ¾-ton trucks.

Under the skin, updates from the 1967-’72 series included a switch from standard rear coil to leaf springs on two-wheel-drive ½- and ¾-ton trucks, longer front leaf springs and a standard front stabilizer bar on four-wheel-drives, full-time four-wheel drive, and an energy-absorbing steering column. The 454-cu.in. V-8 was offered for the first time, and the fuel tank was moved from inside the cab to outside the frame rails.

1976 C10 fleetside with the Silverado package

It was that last change that would embroil these trucks in controversy and lead to accidental deaths, a federal investigation, millions in court settlement costs, and a nationwide class action lawsuit. Long after the last of these trucks had left showrooms, their side-saddle tank design received a double dose of national media attention. First, in 1992, NBC’s news series Dateline aired a segment that showed a GM truck exploding when it was T-boned by a speeding Chevrolet Citation. Subsequently, Dateline retracted the segment and admitted that it had rigged the truck with incendiary devices to make it explode. But, in 1995, GM agreed to a $600-million settlement over the sidesaddle tanks. As part of the deal, owners of 1973-’87 GM light trucks were issued $1,000 rebates toward the purchase of a new GM vehicle.

Today, 1973-’87 GM light trucks make great projects and excellent work or play rigs. Their popularity means you might pay more for good examples as time marches on, but it also means a better return on investment. Due to the wide range of this guide, it’s a little bit general in some areas. For specific year and model details, go to gmheritagecenter.com, where every brochure from 1973-’87 is available for download, as are detailed information packets with dimensions, options, specifications, and more. That said, if you’re considering one of these hardworking haulers, here are some points to be aware of.

Silverado (left), which was the top trim offering with available cloth seats, carpeting, and more; Scottsdale was a step up from base and included vinyl upholstery, full-depth foam seat, and interior courtesy lighting.

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Buyer’s Guide: The plentiful, affordable, 5.0-powered 1987-93 Ford Mustang – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


A new Mustang GT hit the ground galloping in 1982 and Ford shouted its return with the slogan: “The Boss is Back!” Hitching the Boss legend to this new pony made good marketing sense, but the Fox was no retro-themed throwback. It would go on to inspire a new generation of enthusiasts and launch dedicated magazines and websites, as well as become a darling of the aftermarket.

Old-school, American rear-drive performance mounted a comeback in the 1980s, ushered in by cars like the Buick Grand National, the Chevrolet Monte Carlos SS, and the Camaro IROC-Z. But, when new, these vehicles were priced out of reach of many young people on entry-level salaries. Also, the GM contingent offered manual transmissions only as exceptions rather than the rule.

Not so the 5.0. Ford priced the Mustang GT affordably and, beginning in 1983, offered a real-deal Borg-Warner T-5 fives-peed manual transmission. For ’86, Ford dumped the Holley carburetor and made multiport fuel injection plus a roller camshaft standard—exotic parts for a low-dollar production car back then.

While Chevrolet charged a premium for all the good stuff, Ford lowered the price by offering the el-cheapo LX with a 5.0 powertrain. Not only was it less expensive, but the notch-window body style, exclusive to the LX line, was lighter than the hatchback/convertible GT.

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